Monday, April 23, 2012
Big Bucks in Tater Tots: When Public Schools Run with Business Efficiency
TODAY, WE'RE SPEAKING with the superintendent of Enron City Schools in Enron, Texas. As astute readers may already know, Mr. Frick heads up the first public school district in the nation to be turned over entirely to a private company and run according to best business methods and practices. John Galt, our lead reporter, will be asking all the questions.
Mr. Galt: Thank you, sir, for sitting down to talk. It has been said that success here in Enron will show the nation how we can best reform U. S. education.
Frick: I'll do my best to give you a glimpse of a better future.
Galt: Looking back over your first for-profit school year, now almost complete, what changes make you proudest?
Frick: I'd have to say the cost-cutting benefits we brought to schools by following the Apple strategy. You want cheaper iPads, or cheaper education, you have to make choices that benefit consumers.
Galt: Also the bottom line?
Frick: Well, yes...that, too, a mere side effect; but we all know that the real problem in education is unions. So we broke the union here in Enron and just like that, you create a docile workforce and you can reduce wages and benefits and realize huge savings. That's the genius of the Apple model and we want to bring that genius here. Apple is able to employ college graduates and pay as little as $22 dollars per....
Frick: Oh no, per day! Think of the profits...I mean savings for taxpayers. Since teachers are no longer unionized we require them to put in 12-hour days, six days a week and ignore overtime rules, too. It's just like China!
Galt: Speaking of taxpayers, not everyone in Enron is happy with your methods. You're demanding tax breaks and calling on the community to build a new high school with taxpayer dollars; but you operate at a profit and plan to pocket almost all the money you save, not return it to taxpayers. What happens if voters turn down the next building levy?
Frick: You're either for socialized education or you follow the Miami Marlins business model and enjoy the fruits of free enterprise. Our company has made it clear. If voters won't build the new high school here we're prepared to move operations to Madoff, Oklahoma. Or Mexico. Is that what voters want? All those student openings in kindergarten being shifted to a different state or foreign country?
Galt: So, you'd outsource students?
Frick: Let's just say we have our accounting department studying the business metrics.
Galt: Well...what are some of the most dramatic changes you've seen this year?
Frick: I think you might notice a huge decrease in discipline problems. We've been following the Jansen Pharmaceutical Model. You have a child with any kind of behavior issue. You make sure that child is on a prescription for anti-psychotic drugs, like Risperdel.
Galt: Isn't there evidence that some of these powerful drugs have dangerous side effects, that children sometimes die as a result?
Frick: That's a lie pedaled by the liberal media. Jansen keeps only the finest doctors on the company payroll and those doctors produced all kinds of reports to show that all these drugs were perfectly safe. And just because the Arkansas courts recently fined Jansen $1.4 billion dollars for lying, well that was just the work of activist judges.
Galt: On a happier note, it's been said that you're bringing business efficiency into all areas, including school safety.
Frick: Yes, we're proud of several cost-cutting steps we've instituted. We cut back on unnecessary CPR training for teachers, for example, and reduced the maintenance budget.
Galt: What happens if students get asphyxiated because fumes from dangerous chemical compounds you order janitors to use to speed the cleaning process (another idea copied from the Apple playbook) back up inside classrooms? Wouldn't your company face liability issues?
Frick [laughing]: I'm sorry. That struck me funny. We have our friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council working on rewriting safety rules and regulations, too. And our safety director, Thomas Harrah, used to work for Massey Mining Corporation.
Galt: Isn't he the fellow found complicit in the death of 29 miners at the Big Branch Mine in West Virginia? Isn't Massey the corporation that kept two sets of safety records, one for company use, the other, glossing over safety issues, to show "compliance" under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act?
Frick: You bring business methods to schools, you get business morality in schools.
Galt: Any other innovations you'd like to mention?
Frick: I'm proud to say we've copied First Premier Bank of South Dakota when it comes to student lunch charges. We allow families to open accounts but cap charge limits at $300. They pay $95 to create the account and a $75 annual service fee.
Galt: Big bucks in tater tots?
Frick: Of course. And think about costly school nursing and psychological services! You can't expect free medical care. Are we some kind of socialist country? We've boosted profits significantly by adapting the methods of the Hospital Corporation of America. First, we deny services to children with pre-existing conditions. That saves us a tidy pile of dollars...
Galt: Don't I remember reading that HCA once had to admit to fourteen felonies for defrauding Medicare and pay a fine of $600 million...
Frick: Disgusting rumors, spread by union thugs...they just want to discredit Rick Scott, former head of HCA and now a leader in education reform as governor of Florida...
Galt: I see. I really do. Suppose I told you that voters are unhappy with many of these changes? There's growing pressure on school board members to take action. How would you respond?
Frick: We might follow the lead of the Pearson Corporation. The State of Illinois is paying Pearson $138 million, this year, to administer the state's standardized testing program. So we might say to board members, "We'd like to fly you and your families to a conference in Singapore, where you can stay in luxury motels and discuss education reform...."
Galt: That sounds a little like bribery, to me; but suppose we spend millions on these tests and a testing program doesn't really help raise learning outcomes for the students. Would companies like Pearson be willing to admit their failures? What happens if they put their vested interests in selling more and more testing first?
Frick: Surely, you understand basic economics. If a product is selling well, why would any company want it any other way?
Galt: Wouldn't Pearson have the same vested interests, then, as Phoenix University...the for-profit college which has been sued by federal authorities for graduating students with worthless degrees...
Frick: I'm sorry, It's getting late...
Galt: Yes, of course...Thank you for your time. This session has been highly informative.
Frick: That's what for-profit education is all about. Helping the bottom line while helping people.